Blackwater Watch Vessel & Bradwell Cutter

stansgate watch vesselThe Watch Vessel at Stansgate believed to be the Frolic.

The River Blackwater was as much of a problem for the Coastguard to deter smuggling as the Rivers Crouch and Roach to the south.

Instead of a network of Watch Vessels in the Crouch. Roach and Thames, the Blackwater Coastline was only protected by  Watch vessel at Stansgate and a Revenue Cutter based at Bradwell on Sea.

The cutters were important to the Revenue men as they were small but fast and well armed and so were able to patrol at sea and surprise the smugglers when they were making land or floating the cargo.

In 1794 the Fly was the excise cutter based at Bradwell when it was able to catch the crew of the Ox red handed  heading for Rowhedge on the River Colne with 300 tubs of brandy and geneva aboard.

In 1818 The rattlesnake was transferred to Bradwell from Blackmore Haven in Sussex only to be replaced in 1820 by the New Order although her commander Richard Gowland stayed in charge of the new vessel.

New Order was in turn replaced by the  240 to brigantine Richmond although this vessel was in poor condition and became the Watch Vessel 4 at Stansgate.

The revenue cutter moored at Bradwell Quay in 1856 could well have been the Richmond  Bradwell Quay in 1857

In its turn the Richmond deteriorated and was replaced in 1865 by the Frolic.

Like all watch vessels The Frolic provided accommodation for the Chief Coastguard, four men and their wives and families and an active base.

Being based at Stansgate several miles from the small village of Steeple the men and their families must have felt quite isolated while at least the Bradwell Coastguards lived in a busy community.

Given the crowded nature and damp living conditions illness could sweep through the vessels as was the case in 1839 when tragedy struck Lt Carr who was Commanding Officer of Bradwell Coastguards. On 1st February his 6 month old daughter Margaret died, on the 3rd February his 6 year old daughter Caroline and then on 7th February his 2 year old daughter Mary.

The life of a Coastguard was boring, sometimes difficult and at times dangerous.

In June 1896 Coastguard James West went to the Sun and Anchor Pub in his off duty time and enjoyed a bit too much of Landlord, Christopher Whipps, ale. Firstly he propositioned a young girl only to be rebuffed by her outraged father then he was very noise and used the most filthy language. On leaving the pub he continued his drunken behaviour on his way back to the watch vessel. This time he upset reputable local farmer Robert Attenborough  who complained of his behaviour. On 27th June 1898 he pleaded guilty and was fined 10 shillings with 11 shillings costs.

Shortly after this transgression the more dangerous side of life as a coastguard was highlighted. In September 1896 Coastguard James Collier aged 23 drowned when his small boat capsised after he had inspected the ketch Emily Lloyd .


In October 1906 the Watch Vessel was decommissioned and the men posted to other stations causing upset to the villagers of Steeple due to the loss of trade..

Customs men on the Watch Vessels or the land stations could only watch or mount land patrols which given the tacit support by the local residents for the smugglers usually proved a failure.

stansgate wash room

All that remains of the Stansgate Coastguard's is the white building now used as a store that was formerly the washroom for the Coastguard and their families



 Essex Family History has a number of pages about the Coastguard in the Dengie Hundred  relating to their history as well as their genealogy.

 Coastguard Employees 1821

Coastguard Employees on River Blackwater 1881

Coastguard Employees on River Crouch 1881

Coastguard History

Coastguard Watch Vessels on River Blackwater

Coastguard Watch Vessels on River Crouch and River Roach

Smugglers v Revenue Men